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Competing Claims of “Best” Diet Unjustified Says Author of Invited Review
“The basic theme of optimal eating for human health and weight control is very strongly supported by a vast and diverse literature,”
Katz, who is also the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Childhood Obesity, and President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, reviewed several hundred primary research papers for the review, citing more than 150 in the paper’s bibliography. For his work on the 3rd edition of his textbook, Nutrition in Clinical Practice (Wolters Kluwer), now in production, he reviewed thousands.
“From altitude, it’s pretty clear that Michael Pollan pretty much nailed the description of an optimal diet when he recommended eating ‘food, not too much, mostly plants.’ But importantly, that theme can be represented by a diet low or high in fat, low or high in carbohydrate, lower or higher in protein. It can be represented by a Mediterranean diet, a traditional Asian diet, a Paleo diet, a vegetarian diet, or a vegan diet. If any one of these is ‘best’ we lack the evidence to say so; there are, not surprisingly, no lifelong studies that randomly assigned people to optimized vegan or Paleo diets. Who would sign up?”
Katz went on to refute the currently popular concept that wheat or grains are particularly to blame for weight or health problems. “People with celiac disease or lesser forms of gluten sensitivity clearly need to avoid gluten and its sources, just as people with peanut allergies need to avoid peanuts. But whole grains figure in the diets of some of the longest-lived, healthiest people on the planet, as highlighted by the Blue Zones project. Like most other competing claims about diet, these seem convincing because the authors only cite the work that supports their point of view, ignoring a vast literature that refutes it.”
Katz, who serves on the panel of judges for US News & World Report’s annual “best diet” release, has published a total of 15 books, and roughly 200 peer-reviewed articles. “I think it’s very important that I don’t have a dog in this fight,” Katz noted. “I don’t really care which diet is best---I care about the truth. My own work over the years hasn’t been about advancing a particular diet, but rather keeping up with the relevant science to know what diet is best---and then doing all I can to help people get there from here. This article was very important to me because competing claims and the confusion they propagate actually forestall progress in public health nutrition. The more time and effort spent on ‘my diet can beat your diet,’ the less time and effort devoted to claiming the common ground of healthful eating. We are not clueless about the basic care and feeding of Homo sapiens, but the way we carry on, we might as well be.”
About the Annual Review Public Health: The Annual Review of Public Health, in publication since 1980, covers significant developments in the field of Public Health, including key developments in epidemiology and biostatistics, environmental and occupational health, issues related to social environment and behavior, health services, and public health practice. For more information, please visit www.annualreviews.org/
About the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center: The Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center (PRC) was established in 1998 through funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of 37 such centers nationwide representing academic/community partnerships, the PRC is engaged in interdisciplinary applied prevention research in collaboration with community partners, federal, state, and local health and education agencies, and other universities. The goal of the PRC is to develop innovative approaches to health promotion and disease prevention that will directly benefit the public's health, first locally, and then nationally. For more information, please visit www.yalegriffinprc.org.
About Dr. Katz: David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP is the founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. Recipient of numerous awards, including an honorary doctorate and nominations for U.S. Surgeon General, Katz is recognized globally for expertise in nutrition, weight management and chronic disease prevention.